Balochistan Sufi shrine suicide attack: At least 15 killed, dozens wounded

At least 15 people have been killed and 20 injured in a suicide attack on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan’s south-western province of Balochistan.

Crowds of devotees had gathered for a three-day religious ceremony at Fatehpur Dargah shrine when the blast happened.

The shrine is in Jhal Magsi, near the provincial capital Quetta.

A regional official told BBC the bomber had detonated his explosives after being stopped at the gate of the shrine by a policeman. The officer was killed.

Security forces have sealed off the building, Pakistani media reported.

Dr Rukhsana Magsi, medical superintendent at the DHQ hospital in Jhal Magsi, said they had received 14 bodies and 22 wounded, including 12 who suffered serious injuries and were being transported to other hospitals.

“Casualties are still arriving,” she said.

“The wounds, the serious ones, many people have either lost their hands, some have been hit in their heads with shrapnel,” Magsi said.

It is unclear who carried out the attack, but Sufi shrines have been increasingly targeted by Islamist extremists in recent years.

Pakistan has been battling the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other armed groups since 2007. Violence has dropped significantly in the past three years, since the launch of a military operation to evict those groups from sanctuaries in the volatile northwestern tribal districts.

Since 2016, however, it has been facing a growing threat of attacks from ISIL, which has claimed responsibility for several suicide attacks, particularly those targeting Sufi shrines such as the one attacked on Thursday.

In November, at least 52 people were killed in an ISIL-claimed suicide bombing at a shrine in the Hub district of Balochistan, south of Jhal Magsi.

In February, ISIL claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack on Pakistani soil since 2014, in which a shrine in neighboring Sindh province was targeted, killing 90 people and injured around 400. Daesh had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Balochistan in particular–the province is host to the humongous US$62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor–has been the target of most recent destabilizing activities. Pakistan points finger at regional and foreign hands in cohort with their sleeper cells inside the country saying external forces inimical to the upcoming CPEC– considered a geoeconomic game-changer for the country, are behind these such attacks.

“Even right now, we have about four intelligence agencies working against us,” said Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the spokesperson for Inter-Services Public Relations on Thursday during a wide-ranging press briefing at the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Many local observers and analysts generally agree with the observation.

The military spokesman discussed several key issues, including relations with Afghanistan, India and the US, internal security and civil-military relations.

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